Bally launches Beach Boys-inspired slots

Bally Technologies is to unveil its new Beach Boys-themed video slots at the NIGA trade show next month.

by Simon Liddle

Taking centre stage at the event, which is being held at the San Diego Convention Center on April 1-4, these five-reel, 1,024-way games are presented on Bally’s Alpha 2 Pro Series V22/22 upright wheel cabinet.

The games feature Beach Boys songs and video clips, five progressive jackpots, the company’s U-Spin play mechanic and Pro Series surround sound chair.

The colourful Beach Boys Bonus Wheel awards credits and one of the six U-Spin bonus wheels for a chance to win one of the progressive jackpots.

“Tribal gaming operators are tremendous partners and supporters of Bally Technologies, and we look forward to showcasing our latest solutions to help them drive revenue and get greater operating efficiencies in their casino operations,” said Derik Mooberry, senior vice president of products and operations at Bally. “Indian Gaming 2012 is the perfect environment to showcase our new games, systems and interactive solutions – all designed to deliver a better player experience.”

Bally’s Beach Boys games will be presented alongside the company’s Michael Jackson King of Pop and Grease games.

Also on show will be a video slot adaptation of the arcade game Skee-Ball.


Beach Boys announce a reunion tour, with Brian Wilson, to mark 50th anniversary

By Associated Press

NEW YORK — It’s almost winter, but get ready for some surf and sun: The Beach Boys are reuniting.

The founding members of the classic rock group — Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine — announced Friday they are getting back together to celebrate their 50th anniversary. They’re working on a new album and also plan a 50-date tour that will take them around the world.

“This anniversary is special to me because I miss the boys, and it will be a thrill for me to make a new record and be on stage with them again,” Wilson said in a statement.

The group also includes Bruce Johnston and David Marks, both of whom have been with the band for decades.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers gave birth to the California rock sound. Back then, the band members were Love, Jardine, Wilson and his two brothers — Carl and Dennis Wilson, who have since died. With songs like “Good Vibrations,” ‘’I Get Around” and “California Girls,” the quintet embodied the fantasy of West Coast beach life. Their albums, particularly “Pet Sounds,” influenced rockers of their generation and beyond.

But Wilson suffered mental problems that caused him to withdraw from the band, and there were years of animosity between Love and Wilson, who are cousins, as well as lawsuits among members of the band. Still, they have gotten back together over the years, including for their 40th anniversary in the last decade.

Love remarked in the statement Friday on how he and Wilson were getting along well, sharing compliments together in the studio.

“Music has been the unifying and harmonizing fact of life in our family since childhood,” he said. ”It has been a huge blessing that we have been able to share with the world.” Referring to a Beach Boy hit, he added: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Do It Again? Absolutely!”

The group was supposed to announce their reunion as a surprise during the Recording Academy’s live nominations special for the Grammys last month, but those plans fell through.

However, Jardine said the group planned to appear at the Feb. 12 Grammy telecast in Los Angeles.

“There will be a surprise at the Grammys,” he told Rolling Stone. “We will do something really exciting. There’s a lot of interest in it, which is nice. It’s going to be a very big operation.”

The Beach Boys first concert is scheduled for April 27 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.


Beach Boys restaurant to open in Vegas

By Delen Goldberg

The Beach Boys are joining a growing wave of musicians opening restaurants in Las Vegas.

The iconic California band is pairing with Caesars Entertainment and the Monsoon Group to open the Beach Boys Good Vibration Restaurant at Bally’s. The establishment is expected to debut in summer 2012, the year of the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary.

Operations Manager Nick Raymond said Las Vegas will be the restaurant’s first location, but investors hope to expand it worldwide.

“People say, ‘Wow, the Beach Boys, that’s 50 years ago,’” Raymond said. “But we’re bringing in a new cutting edge. It’s more like surf fusion. It’s not like we’re going to play ‘Good Vibrations’ every five minutes. It’s going to be about what’s happening in Huntington Beach, Hawaii, Australia, South Africa. It’s about cars, surf, women, the lifestyle.”

Raymond said the casual-dining restaurant will feature a diverse menu and bar with affordable prices.

If it opens as planned, the restaurant will be the latest in a string of musician-owned eateries. Jimmy Buffett started the trend with Margaritaville in the Flamingo. B.B. King, Sammy Hagar, Toby Keith and Vince Neil soon followed. Most recently, Kiss announced plans for a themed coffeehouse, and Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ and Beer opened Thursday at Excalibur.


Me and the man with the iPad

By Barry Malone

I never know how to behave when I go to write about hungry people.

I usually bring just a notebook and a pen because it seems somehow more subtle than a recorder. I drain bottled water or hide it before I get out of the car or the plane. In Ethiopia a few years ago I was telling a funny story to some other journalists as our car pulled up near a church where we had been told people were arriving looking for food.

We got out and began walking towards the place, me still telling the tale, shouting my mouth off, struggling to get to the punch line through my laughter and everybody else’s.

Then there was this sound, a low rumbling thing that came to meet us.

I could feel it roll across the ground and up through my boots. I stopped talking, my laughter died, I grabbed the arm of the person beside me: “What is that?” And I realized. It was the sound of children crying. There were enough children crying that — I’ll say it again — I could feel it in my boots. I was shamed by my laughter.

Inside the churchyard there were tents and inside the tents children were dying.

Rows and rows of women sat on the ground cradling delicate babies. An aid worker told us we had ten minutes and so we went to work. Camera shutters clicking, pens scratching: “What’s her name? How far did she walk? How many of her kids are dead?”

Some journalists leaned down over the mothers to talk to them, some stuck cameras inches from their faces. I stood further away when taking the photos, I sat down in the dirt to interview people. I thought I was better, but I wasn’t. I was just more conceited.

I remember looking up and seeing a girl who worked at a U.N. aid agency crying. I motioned to her to get out — her tears as self-indulgent as my sitting in the dirt. And then we leave. Thank you, we say. Thank you for talking to me. Thank you for holding up your dying baby for my camera. And thank you for your dignity. Thank you for giving it to me. Thank you for letting me have it.

Because that’s the thing. An Ethiopian girl told me last week that she cried as she watched foreign journalists interviewing a Somali woman in a Kenyan refugee camp. “All she had left was her dignity,” she said. “And then they took that, too.”

She was right. And I knew that I had done that. Many, many times.

I used to tell myself that it was okay because what I did was important. A U.N. official once excitedly phoned me at 7am to tell me the U.S. had donated millions of dollars to his agency because someone from the government had read a story of mine in the Washington Post.

Another aid worker approached me in a bar in Addis Ababa. “Hey! That story you wrote about that woman? That woman who had a kid die every year for the last four years and now only has one left? Awesome, man! Awesome!”

Her name was Ayantu. I don’t know if her son, Hirbu, is still alive.

Last weekend I was there again. The U.N. loaded me and some other journalists onto one of their planes in Nairobi and we flew to a tiny village near Somalia to meet people suffering from hunger, to ask them our questions, to find the sorriest tales possible.

We jumped into an imperious row of white jeeps when we landed and swept into the village. Doors flew open, everybody walked very fast, everybody was very important.

I saw six people all firing their cameras at one bemused woman. I saw aid workers fawning over the head of the World Food Programme. I saw soldiers fanning out to protect us. And then I saw the man with the iPad. I stood and stared for some time, enjoying the deliciousness of what was one of the strangest things I had ever seen in my life.

I raised the camera.

This is what I’ll write, I thought. Not about another Ayantu. Not again.

Because it’s a cycle. African governments know that drought is coming and they don’t prepare. Foreign charities working there talk about long-term plans to help people become self-sufficient but they’ve been failing to achieve them for 20 years. It’s as much about politics and war and poor economic policies as it is about no rain. I’m no expert but I know that much.

I also know it’s wrong that every few years we’re faced with an “emergency” that could have been prevented, that aid groups must frantically try to raise money to respond, that journalists need to find emaciated babies at death’s door and film and photograph and write about them before the world gives a damn.

Part of me felt bad for publishing the photo of the man with the iPad. Because he was a good person doing his job. And because we are the same.

He comes with an iPad, I come with a notebook.

Both of us steal dignity and neither of us belong.


R.I.P., the movie camera: 1888-2011

By Matt Zoller Seitz

We might as well call it: Cinema as we knew it is dead.

An article at the moviemaking technology website Creative Cow reports that the three major manufacturers of motion picture film cameras — Aaton, ARRI and Panavision — have all ceased production of new cameras within the last year, and will only make digital movie cameras from now on. As the article’s author, Debra Kaufman, poignantly puts it, “Someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”

What this means is that, even though purists may continue to shoot movies on film, film itself will may become increasingly hard to come by, use, develop and preserve. It also means that the film camera — invented in 1888 by Louis Augustin Le Prince — will become to cinema what typewriters are to literature. Anybody who still uses a Smith-Corona or IBM Selectric typewriter knows what that means: if your beloved machine breaks, you can’t just take it to the local repair shop, you have to track down some old hermit in another town who advertises on Craigslist and stockpiles spare parts in his basement.

As Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala told Kaufman: “Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world? We wouldn’t survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.” Bill Russell, ARRI’s vice president of cameras, added that: “The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared.”

Theaters, movies, moviegoing and other core components of what we once called “cinema” persist, and may endure. But they’re not quite what they were in the analog cinema era. They’re something new, or something else — the next generation of technologies and rituals that had changed shockingly little between 1895 and the early aughts. We knew this day would come. Calling oneself a “film director” or “film editor” or “film buff” or a “film critic” has over the last decade started to seem a faintly nostalgic affectation; decades hence it may start to seem fanciful. It’s a vestigial word that increasingly refers to something that does not actually exist — rather like referring to the mass media as “the press.”

In May 1999 — a year that saw several major releases, including “Toy Story 2,″ projected digitally for paying customers — editor and sound designer Walter Murch wrote a piece for the New York Times headlined, “A Digital Cinema of the Mind? Could Be.” In it, Murch pointed out that only two major aspects of the analog filmmaking process had survived into the late ’90s, the recording of images on sprocketed celluloid film and their projection onto big screens by casting a beam of light through the images. Murch predicted that once digital projection became widespread, it would “trigger the final capitulation of the two last holdouts of film’s 19th-century, analog-mechanical legacy. Projection, at the end of the line, is one; the other is the original photography that begins the whole process. The movie industry is currently a digital sandwich between slices of analog bread.”

Near the end of 1999, my former New York Press colleague Godfrey Cheshire published a two-part article titled “Death of Film/Decay of Cinema“, which in hindsight seems eerily prescient. He predicted just about everything that would happen within the next decade-plus, including the replacement of old-fashioned film print projection by digital systems, the replacement of film cameras by digital cameras, and the near-total takeover of traditional cinematic language by techniques that had once been the province of television.

“Camera, projector, celluloid,” Cheshire wrote, “the basic technology hasn’t changed in over a century. Sure, as a form of expression, film underwent a radical alteration with the addition of sound, but that and other developments – color, widescreen, stereo, etc.–were simply embellishments to a technical paradigm that has held true since photographic likenesses began to move, and that everyone in the world has thought of as “the movies” – until this summer. [...] For the time being, most movies will still be shot on film, primarily because audiences are used to the look, but everything else about the process will be, in effect, television – from the transmission by satellite to the projection, which for all intents and purposes is simply a glorified version of a home video projection system.”

Although I’ve become more of a surly classicist with age, I was an early defender of movies shot on video, and I really don’t see the point of doing a Grandpa Cinema routine, waving a cane and hollering that the movies somehow “equal” film. That’s silly. Cinema is not just a medium. It is a language. Its essence — storytelling with shots and cuts, with or without sound — will survive the death of the physical material, celluloid, that many believed was inseparably linked to it. The physical essence of analog cinema won’t survive the death of film (except at museums and repertory houses that insist on showing 16mm and 35mm prints).

But digital cinema will become so adept at mimicking the look of film that within a couple of decades, even cinematographers may not be able to tell the difference. The painterly colors, supple gray scale, hard sharpness and enticing flicker of motion picture film were always important (if mostly unacknowledged) parts of cinema’s mass appeal. The makers of digital moviemaking equipment got hip to that in the late ’90s, and channeled their research and development money accordingly; it’s surely no coincidence that celluloid-chauvinist moviegoers and moviemakers stopped resisting the digital transition once they realized that the new, electronically-created movies could be made to look somewhat like the analog kind, with dense images, a flickery frame rate, and starkly defined planes of depth.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Now that analog filmmaking is dead, an ineffable beauty has died with it. Let’s raise two toasts, then — one to the glorious past, and one to the future, whatever it may hold.


The coming Canada-U.S. tax war

Arthur Cockfield

On Dec. 16, 1773, Samuel Adams and his group of patriots, the Sons of Liberty, swept aboard a cargo ship filled with 45 tons of East India Company tea, which they promptly dumped into Boston Harbor. The Americans were rebelling against a three-pence tea tax imposed by the then-ruling British government. Like a Canuck version of Sam Adams, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently took the highly unusual step of upbraiding his American counterparts in a public letter for the “far-reaching extraterritorial implications” of their onerous tax laws that apply to Canadian taxpayers.

Under these laws, any U.S. citizen, whether living temporarily or permanently in Canada, must annually report on all accounts above $10,000 and file a U.S. return. There are roughly a million U.S. citizens living in Canada, more than anywhere else. If these individuals don’t comply, they could be subject to penalties that include 25 per cent of the amount of the undisclosed assets plus repayment of back taxes plus interest penalties plus possible imprisonment.

The U.S. laws apply even though these individuals may have disclosed and paid Canadian tax on all of the relevant income, often at higher rates than U.S. ones. Even King George III would have blushed at the suggestion of such confiscatory tax measures.

And the situation may get worse. The Obama administration promoted new laws that, beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, will force Canadian financial institutions to collect account information about these Canadian-based taxpayers for eventual remittance to the Internal Revenue Service. The Finance Minister correctly pointed out this “would turn Canadian banks into extensions of the IRS and would raise significant privacy concerns for Canadians.” The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has also raised the alarm, since it would permit a foreign government to gather and store detailed financial information about many Canadians.

The Canadian government can take a number of steps to address this situation.

First, it should continue to press the Americans for an exemption for all U.S. citizens who have lawfully paid taxes on their income to Canada, and thus have never taken steps to hide their assets. The Finance Minister neglected to mention the main reason why it makes sense to provide Canada with an exemption. The two countries have already agreed to significant tax information exchanges, including information about cross-border portfolio investment income (interest from a corporate bond, for example), through co-operative measures they don’t share with any other countries.

Second, Parliament should table legislation that renders the recent Obama legislation of no force and effect in Canada. Foreign governments should be entitled to a reasonable amount of financial information to help enforce their tax laws, but turning Canadian banks into a branch of the IRS goes too far.

Finally, assuming this matter can’t be settled between the two countries, Parliament should pass retaliatory legislation that imposes the same enforcement regime on U.S. financial institutions that deal with Canadian “tax” residents. Under Canadian tax law, these residents, including many Canadians who live in the U.S. and maintain assets and social ties in Canada, must pay tax to Ottawa on their global income.

This final approach will serve two purposes. It will bring to bear lobbying pressure from the U.S. financial industry that won’t want to sustain the administrative costs of determining whether they’re dealing with a tax resident of Canada.

Perhaps more important, the measure will stir up the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who live in the U.S. –there are almost a million in California alone. That’s right: We may need to enlist Mike Myers, Celine Dion, Jim Carrey and other true patriots in a coming war against Yankee imperialistic taxation.

Arthur Cockfield, a law professor at Queen’s University, is the editor of Globalization and Its Tax Discontents: Tax Policy and International Investments. He testified about tax evasion and offshore bank accounts in February before Parliament’s standing committee on finance.


Beach Boys Plan Anniversary Blowout With Likely Reunion Tour

By Patrick Doyle
September 28, 2011 11:25 AM ET

In Capitol Records' giant Studio A in Los Angeles this summer, the surviving Beach Boys – Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston – gathered around a microphone and, for the first time in two dec­ades, harmonized on a track. The song was, appropriately enough, a rerecording of their stomping 1968 hit "Do It Again." "Even the veteran sound engineers were moved," says Jardine. "Not all of us are left, but there are still enough of us for that vibration to come through."

"The song title has pretty firm implications, doesn't it?" says Love. "Brian asked me, 'How does a 70-year-old sound that good?' "

After resolving decades of bitter legal battles, the band is reuniting to celebrate its 50th anniversary in a major way, with archival releases on the way, including the upcoming Smile Sessions (out November 1st). And the "Do It Again" session was filmed as a promotional video for a likely world tour next year. "We'll do maybe 50 amphitheaters here and 50 or 60 overseas," says Jardine. "It'll be whenever the buyers think is the best time for us. We're wide open for that."

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Beach Boys

Ironically, it was the recording of Smile that drove a wedge between the band members. In 1964, Wilson, the group's primary songwriter and producer, suffered a nervous breakdown on tour. He returned home, fell in with the L.A. rock counterculture, began smoking pot and taking LSD, and focused solely on writing and producing rec­ords, notably the Beach Boys' 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds.

Smile, the intended follow-up, was even more ambitious. Wilson composed the album with lyricist Van Dyke Parks, constructing musical fragments with roots in Gershwin and American folk, and directing marathon sessions with the best players in Los Angeles.

Wilson composed key songs, including "Heroes and Villains," in his den, with his grand piano in a sandbox to remind him of the beach. "It was music that was totally experimental and drug-related," Wilson says. "We were out of our minds over how creative drugs made us feel."

Wilson's confidence started to crack in November 1966, when he played the other Beach Boys some tracks after they returned home from a long tour. "Mike said, 'What is all this junk?' " says Wilson, " 'all these little snippets?' " (Love remembers it differently: "That's not true. His work there is fantastic. But some of the lyrics didn't connect with me.")

The planned release date passed. "They didn't think it was commercial enough," Wilson says. He became a recluse, battling mental illness for the next few decades, and the rest of the band became a touring nostalgia act. Countless lawsuits began, including Love suing Wilson for songwriting credits and Jardine over the use of the Beach Boys name.

Wilson finally finished Smile in 2003, rerecording songs with his touring band and releasing it as an acclaimed solo LP. And now, the original Beach Boys sessions will be released as a five-disc set. Under Wilson's supervision, co-producers Mark Linett and Alan Boyd scoured dozens of hours of tape, pulling the best vocal and instrumental takes. The result is an edited, sequenced LP that reconstructs what the original Smile might have sounded like.

The box also includes entire discs from the "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes and Villains" sessions, with Wilson tirelessly trying new rhythms and vocal patterns. You also hear the druggy digressions: During vocal sessions for "Our Prayer," Wilson can be heard asking, "You guys feel any acid yet?" The bizarre moments include "Underwater Chant," a hypnotic track where the group name-checks sea creatures over heavy echo.

"I think five CDs is a bit much," says Love. "But for the serious music collector, it's a great record to have."

Love is more excited to discuss the band's future; he says that he's talking to Wilson about writing songs together again. And Beach Boys session vet Eddie Bayers says he recently played drums on new Wilson tracks slated for a Beach Boys reunion record. "Brian's new creations are just unbelievable," says Bayers.

Not all the wounds have healed, though – in a recent interview, Wilson sounded ambivalent about a reunion. Asked if he's looking forward to the anniversary, he responds, "Not particularly," adding, "I don't really like working with the guys, but it all depends on how we feel and how much money's involved. Money's not the only reason I made rec­ords, but it does hold a place in our lives."

Love insists, "Everybody sounds great. Brian will sit down at the piano and come up with some chords to sing, and it's always impressive. He hasn't lost the ability to do what he does best: chord progressions, vocal arrangements and great harmonies. It could be very exciting to do that all over again."


Record industry faces liability over 'infringement'

By Michael Geist

Chet Baker was a leading jazz musician in the 1950s, playing trumpet and providing vocals. Baker died in 1988, yet he is about to add a new claim to fame as the lead plaintiff in possibly the largest copyright infringement case in Canadian history. His estate, which still owns the copyright in more than 50 of his works, is part of a massive class-action lawsuit that has been underway for the past year.

The infringer has effectively already admitted owing at least $50 million and the full claim could exceed $6 billion. If the dollars don't shock, the target of the lawsuit undoubtedly will: The defendants in the case are Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada, the four primary members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.

The CRIA members were hit with the lawsuit in October 2008 after artists decided to turn to the courts following decades of frustration with the rampant infringement (I am adviser to the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, which is co-counsel, but have had no involvement in the case).

The claims arise from a longstanding practice of the recording industry in Canada, described in the lawsuit as "exploit now, pay later if at all." It involves the use of works that are often included in compilation CDs (ie. the top dance tracks of 2009) or live recordings. The record labels create, press, distribute and sell the CDs, but do not obtain the necessary copyright licences.

Instead, the names of the songs on the CDs are placed on a "pending list," which signifies that approval and payment is pending. The pending list dates back to the late 1980s, when Canada changed its copyright law by replacing a compulsory licence with the need for specific authorization for each use. It is perhaps better characterized as a copyright infringement admission list, however, since for each use of the work, the record label openly admits that it has not obtained copyright permission and not paid any royalty or fee.

Over the years, the size of the pending list has grown dramatically, now containing more than 300,000 songs.

From Beyonce to Bruce Springsteen, the artists waiting for payment are far from obscure, as thousands of Canadian and foreign artists have seen their copyrights used without permission and payment.

It is difficult to understand why the industry has been so reluctant to pay its bills. Some works may be in the public domain or belong to a copyright owner difficult to ascertain or locate, yet the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Bruce Cockburn, Sloan, or the Watchmen are not hidden from view.

The more likely reason is that the record labels have had little motivation to pay up. As the balance has grown, David Basskin, the president and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., notes in his affidavit that "the record labels have devoted insufficient resources for identifying and paying the owners of musical works on the pending lists." The CRIA members now face the prospect of far greater liability.

The class action seeks the option of statutory damages for each infringement. At $20,000 per infringement, potential liability exceeds $6 billion.

These numbers may sound outrageous, yet they are based on the same rules that led the recording industry to claim a single file sharer is liable for millions in damages.

After years of claiming Canadian consumers disrespect copyright, the irony of having the recording industry face a massive lawsuit will not be lost on anyone, least of all the artists still waiting to be paid. Indeed, they are also seeking punitive damages, arguing "the conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers."

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.


Why Do Studios Think There’s So Much Value in Old Titles?

By: Claude Brodesser-Akner

This weekend sees the opening of two remakes of eighties cult hits that play off of name recognition: Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night. The first has been kept culturally relevant mostly from Arnold Schwarzenegger's constant references to it as governor, while at this point the second title strikes a chord mostly with those who spent insomniac evenings watching it rerun on USA before there were more options on cable. So what value do these nostalgic, more fuzzily remembered titles really have to today's audiences?

Let's start with Fright Night: Its target is young women, who are the historically predominant demo for horror, according to Geoffrey Ammer, a former president of marketing at Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios, and Marvel Entertainment. But shouldn't its title also, in theory, appeal to older women who were screaming teens when the original came out in 1985?

However, according to NRG audience polling data leaked to us by a studio source, nearly three fourths (74 percent) of women under 25 were aware of the Colin Farrell movie (up from 69 percent on Sunday), with one in four of them expressing "definite interest" in seeing it. This augurs a modest opening, one made all the more modest because the number of older females with "definite interest" is actually decreasing, dropping from 22 percent to 20 percent since Sunday. Older women are less prone to go to horror movies anyway, and as the demo who would most recognize the title, they are getting less intrigued the more marketing money the studio pours on. (Still, its young female audience and a recent uptick in young males suggests it might make $17 million and finish in second place.)

On the other hand, the primary audience for action-adventure movies is, unsurprisingly, young men. So, once again, older males who saw the original Conan the Barbarian in 1982 are the ones who, based on the title, would seem most nostalgically driven to see another warrior crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and time permitting, hear the lamentations of their women. In this case, men over 25 are more aware of the new Conan than those under 25 (89 percent versus 80 percent), but there is no difference whatsoever in their level of definite interest (37 percent) in seeing the remake. (This suggests a $15 million opening and a fourth-place finish, but doesn't mean it can't be profitable regardless.)

“If you look at both films, neither [title] is meaningful to older audiences right now,” says Ammer. “It’s been too long." So why bother with resuscitating an old title when you could just as easily create a new one with the same basic premise, but different enough not to be sued over? After all, in these vampire-clogged times, it wouldn't be suspicious if a studio came up with its own bloodsucker-next-door concept. "Studios remake these movies because they often already own the title,” says Ammer. But it's more than that. After all, it wouldn’t cost a studio any more money to hire a writer to write an original screenplay than it would to have him or her write one based on an older film. The real appeal of an old title is more superstitious: The studios use them, says Ammer, because “they know it’s worked in the past.” Even though it's an entirely different movie made by different people for a different generation, the idea is, hey, the title worked before, why not give it another shot? For all of Hollywood’s supposed liberalism, studios, like their audiences, are quite conservative. Genre is the most predictive aspect of a film's future results, and then title, so why not double down? A remake of a successful genre film allows a studio the greatest possible risk reduction.

Of course, dismissing warmed-over art is an ancient pastime — one dating back to before the nineteenth century, when Italian poet Giacamo Leopardi lamented that “there are some centuries in which the art and other disciplines presume to remake everything because they know how to make nothing.” But in today’s Hollywood, the truth is just the reverse: They make nothing precisely because they know how to remake everything.


The convenience trap: What the changes at Netflix reveal about an insidious trend

by Sam Adams

Lars Von Trier said that “a film should be like a stone in your shoe,” but it increasingly seems like we’re moving toward a world in which the success of a given work of art is determined primarily by its ease of access. “Convenience” and “choice” are the watchwords of the digital era, in which content must be instantly accessible and as quickly digested, lest consumers flit off to some more welcoming destination.

With its recent decision to sever its streaming video and DVD-by-mail services, charging a flat fee for each that would raise prices on existing services as much as 60 percent, Netflix unceremoniously shoved its customers toward a future in which hard copies are a thing of the past. (As Jim Emerson pointed out in a post on his Scanners blog, the company has made internal moves to forcibly separate its two-pronged business by removing users’ ability to manage their DVD queues from the streaming app.) Streaming music has turned every laptop into a world-class listening booth, and Netflix’s DVD service allowed anyone with a mailbox access to many of the greatest movies ever made. But as we come to expect and even rely on near-instantaneous access, we risk unconsciously downgrading anything that isn’t so ready at hand. Because of my profession, people confess to me that it’s been years since they saw a movie in a theater, while friends post requests for Netflix Instant recommendations on Facebook and Twitter, apparently content to limit their options to whatever’s streaming right now.

Netflix’s rationale was a simple cost-benefit analysis: Given the runaway success of its streaming service—which now comprises nearly a third of the country’s Internet traffic during peak hours—it could no longer offer dual plans as a mere add-on. But CNET’s Greg Sandoval put forth an intriguing alternate theory, one that does a substantially better job of encompassing the entirely predictable negative reaction to the price hike: What if Netflix wanted to kill off its DVD business, the way Apple killed off the floppy drive? There’s a reason the company’s not called “DVDs by mail.”

It’s common knowledge that Netflix’s streaming offerings are patchy and unpredictable, light on new releases and heavy on catalog obscurities, and that a movie or a TV series you’re in the middle of watching can disappear overnight. But what if Netflix wants disgruntled customers? Sandoval speculates that Netflix assumes most customers will drop DVDs in favor of streaming, and studios will be faced with two choices: either make more titles available via streaming, or accept that Netflix’s customers will just watch something else. It’s already trained its members to wait four weeks, during which new movies are available to buy but not to rent, in order to expand its selection of Instant titles. So why not assume they’ll wait forever, or failing that, move on? Search for Drive Angry, and Instant helpfully suggests you watch Kick-Ass instead.

In essence, Netflix is gambling that its customers are less concerned about watching the right movie than watching right now. What if it’s right? Let’s leave aside issues of quality control, the fact that Netflix frequently makes movies available in the wrong aspect ratio, or that the quality of streamed video is noticeably poorer than DVD, let alone Blu-ray. Let’s focus purely on availability, what you can watch and what you can’t. As of this writing, Instant offers several off-brand collections of Charlie Chaplin’s early shorts, but none of his features. There are two titles apiece for Jean Renoir and Akira Kurosawa. You can watch Todd Haynes’ Poison and Far From Heaven, but not Velvet Goldmine or I’m Not There. (Despite having been released on DVD, Haynes’ Safe is unavailable even for rental.) You can stream the moving gay-rights documentary Word Is Out, but not the pioneering queer films of Kenneth Anger. Derek Jarman’s Edward II is there, but not his masterful The Last Of England.

As critic and historian Dave Kehr is often moved to point out, the prevailing myth that “everything is on DVD” is hilariously wrong. Every time a new technology takes over, a chunk of film history gets left behind. Movies that were mainstays of undergraduate film classes have been marginalized as colleges and universities zero out rental budgets and build new classrooms that only allow for projection from digital sources. Luis Buñuel’s Land Without Bread, once a pivotal text for teachers seeking to illustrate the potential for deception inherent in the documentary form, has all but drifted out of the conversation, replaced by more easily accessible examples.

The services offering access to a bottomless library of content continue to multiply, but for myriad reasons ranging from licensing restrictions to tangled chains of custody, these services are critically flawed. Spotify’s great, unless you want to listen to anything Hüsker Dü recorded before its major-label debut. Would you trade New Day Rising for the Black Eyed Peas catalogue?

Netflix and Spotify offer untold lifetimes’ worth of content, enough to keep your eyes occupied and your ears filled until the end of time. But there’s so much they lack: out-of-print albums with no rights to license, or great LPs as yet undigitized; movies unavailable and unreleased. Savvy (and legally flexible) Internet users know how to get a hold of many of them, but that too requires an inconvenient amount of effort, to say nothing of the get-up-and-go required to actually leave home and patronize your local cinematheque (if you’re lucky enough to have one, as fewer and fewer people are).

The consequences of exalting ease above all else are twofold. There’s pure economic marginalization, through which less-popular titles are pushed aside. (See this post advancing the sketchy but troubling prospect that Netflix may be moving away from smaller documentary releases, which could have a disproportionate effect on boutique distributors.) And then there’s the knock-on effect through which ease of access bleeds into ease of viewing. If you’re not inclined to put forth the effort to get yourself in close proximity to a given artwork, will you be willing to expend the mental energy necessary to understand it? How much more likely are you to bail on, say, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, when with a few clicks of your remote you can be watching a favorite episode of Friday Night Lights?

Earlier this summer, a New York Times Magazine article touched off a debate about “cultural vegetables,” singling out “long” movies that in most cases are shorter than the average football game. We carry around unspoken assumptions about what’s long and what’s short, what’s easy and what’s hard, and when those assumptions calcify, we may no longer be aware they’re there. The populist idea that art should be accessible to the public has been engulfed by the notion of art as commodity, readily available, no waiting.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune last week, Milos Stehlik, who founded Facets Multi-Media, the DVD distributor of such vegetable-flavored works as Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue and Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó, recalled, “For me, a great film always took effort. Sometimes I traveled far or sat on the floor of basements watching rickety 16mm or beat-up VHS copies. But it was the film that mattered, not having it delivered faster than a pizza, with the click of a button.”

Putting aside the I-walked-two-miles-barefoot-in-the-snow aspect of Stehlik’s recollections, what he’s describing is an environment where the viewer—not, please, the consumer—is fundamentally subservient to a work of art, in which it is our responsibility, and often our pleasure, to come to the work rather than expecting it to come to us. After all, shouldn’t art be inconvenient, if not in the sense of being difficult to access, then because it forces us out of our comfort zones, requiring us to reckon with its way of understanding the world? It may be a stone in your shoe, but if you don’t get off the couch, you’ll never know it’s there.


The Beach Boys Prove Summer Is Forever

by Mitch Albom

It was 50 years ago this summer that a couple of guys named Mike and Brian were sitting in a California garage, noodling with a song. As Mike recalls, the song "didn't take that long. Just a few minutes." When you read the lyrics you believe him:

Surfin' is the only life

The only way for me.

Now surf, surf with me

Bom Bom Dit Di Dit Dip

Bom Bom Dit Di Dit Dip...

Mike and Brian, along with two of Brian's brothers and a family friend, took the song to a local record company, which had wanted them to do a folk tune a la the Kingston Trio.

Instead, they came up with "Surfin'."

And the Beach Boys were born.

I don't know which stuns me more: that the Beach Boys have been around 50 years, or that I know their first hit. But there is something undeniable about their body of music, something that says there is music, and there is iconic music. Why do songs like "California Girls," "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "Fun Fun Fun" still sound fresh, still make people smile, still throw a beam of sunshine over the coldest day?

It must be more than the chords, right?
More than surfers

"It is pretty remarkable," Mike Love admitted to me last week, "that people still love the songs we created lo these many years ago."

Love and the Beach Boys, in their current incarnation, were coming to suburban Detroit for an annual concert tradition. Of course, most of the original members weren't there -- including the semi-reclusive Brian Wilson or his now-deceased brothers, Dennis and Carl. But at this point, even the Beach Boys name is an institution, and people come out to sing along with songs that hearken to a more innocent time -- and an endless summer.

"Dennis, myself and Al (Jardine) were all surfers when we got started," Love said. "In high school, if we heard on the radio that the surf was up, we might miss a few afternoon classes."

Ironically, once they came up with "Surfin'," the band pretty much retired their boards. They've been touring every summer since 1962. As songs like "Surfin Safari" and "Surfin USA" became increasingly bigger hits, the men singing them were increasingly landlocked.

Still, the feelings their music evoked were as sparkly as sunshine refracting diamonds on the ocean. In time they sang about cars ("Little Deuce Coupe," "409"), about school and hanging out ("I Get Around," "Be True To Your School"), about the innocence of youth ("When I Grow Up To Be A Man," "In My Room") and eventually, even psychedelic spirituality ("Good Vibrations").

But through it all, one thing was constant. Their sound was unique. And you always hummed along.
A musical genius

I am -- obviously -- a huge Beach Boys fan. I admire the genius of Brian Wilson's arrangements, his harmonies, his innovative use of sounds and instruments. That he did this on such simple infrastructure as "Dance, Dance, Dance" or "Help Me, Rhonda" only makes it more impressive.

There is no shame in being serious about music and serious about the Beach Boys. Even the Beatles were envious of their work.

Still, there is something about finding out that this band of once shaggy golden boys is now 50 years old, or that Mike Love is in his 70s. It gives you pause.

In "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the lead character never ages, but a hidden portrait of him shows the decay of years.

In real life, the Beach Boys have it better. Their hairlines and birthday cakes may tell one story, but their music tells another. It tells the same remarkable tale it did the day they took a garage-created tune and brought it to a studio.

Sometimes, magic only takes a few minutes. And if you're lucky, it can last for decades.


Illegal immigrant has no right to government health care, court rules

by Adrian Morrow

The Federal Court of Appeal has denied an illegal immigrant coverage under Canada's universal health care system, a precedent-setting decision that could discourage others from travelling to the country to obtain free treatments.

The case relates to Nell Toussaint, a Grenadan national who entered Canada in 1999 as a visitor and has lived in Toronto since then. Suffering from a kidney ailment, by 2006 she was too ill to support herself. Among other ailments, she suffered from blood clots, diabetes and tumours.

Facing hospital and other medical bills she could not pay, she applied to become a permanent resident in 2008 so she could qualify for health care coverage in Ontario. However, she did not pay the fees for her applications, so they were not considered.

She applied for the federal government to pay her health care bills under a 1957 Order in Council that extends coverage to anyone who is being handled by the immigration system. The government refused and she twice appealed the decision, arguing that her rights to life, liberty and security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated. Her second appeal was turned down in a decision released Friday.

Judge David Stratas, writing for the three-member Federal Court of Appeal, argued that the federal government was not obliged to pay her medical bills because, as an illegal immigrant who had not paid the fees to have her application processed, her case was not being handled by the immigration system. The Order in Council, it found, was designed to help only people who enter the country legally.

While the court agreed that Ms. Toussaint suffered from severe medical problems that could lead to her death if left untreated, it found that the lack of medical coverage was her own fault since she had not applied to legally immigrate until she had lived in Canada for nearly a decade.

“The appellant by her own conduct – not the federal government by its Order in Council – has endangered her life and health,” Judge Stratas wrote. “The appellant entered Canada as a visitor. She remained in Canada for many years, illegally. Had she acted legally and obtained legal immigration status in Canada, she would have been entitled to coverage under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.”

He further ruled that the court should reject her appeal in order to defend the country's immigration process and avoid setting a precedent.

“If the appellant were to prevail in this case and receive medical coverage under the Order in Council without complying with Canada’s immigration laws, others could be expected to come to Canada and do the same,” he wrote. “Soon, as the Federal Court warned, Canada could become a health care safe haven, its immigration laws undermined.”

Her legal saga may not be over yet: another court has ruled the government must consider waiving the fees on her residency application, which could restart the immigration process. If she is successful in qualifying as a temporary or permanent resident, the government of Ontario could end up paying her health care bills.


Groundhog Day : Hollywood is about to repeat the catastrophic mistakes of the music industry

By Bill Wyman

What happened to the music industry over the last 10 years or so was a lot like the plot of The Hangover. Bad judgment and self-indulgence producing chaos, pain, blinding sun, dim but lacerating memories … and you wake up to find there's a tiger in your hotel suite. It's been more than 10 years since compression technologies and ever-faster online speeds started making it easy to move media around online. That's the development that put the plot in motion. For music fans, what was first the slow agony—and then the thrill—of emailing a song to a friend evolved with ever-increasing speed into a world in which we can easily swap discographies of 10, 20, even 50 or 100 albums.

What that meant for the music industry was painful: Its sales are about 40 percent of what they were 12 years ago, and there are even worse metrics than that. (There's a chart on this blog post, for example, which demonstrates that people are buying about one-fourth as many CDs as they were in the 1990s.)

Throughout, chaos reigned: The fall of the CD. The rise and fall of the DVD; the rise and fall of Napster. The rise and rise and rise of the file-sharing networks and cyberlocker sites. Thousands of legal attacks by the record industry on file-sharers; the coming of Netflix; the opaque future of streaming services and cloud storage. Indeed, Steve Jobs recently announced Apple's foray into cloud storage. The idea is that we'll be able to match our iTunes libraries—music for now, but eventually video as well—to online repositories, where they will be accessible to all of our computers, TVs, phones, and pads. (I'm not buying it, but that's a subject for another time.)

But note that this has come a decade after the introduction of the iPod. While many of the industry's humiliating Hangover-like pratfalls took place in public, a lot worse was going on behind the scenes. The labels knew something was happening, but they didn't know what it was, and scrambled wildly—and spent that way, too—to get a piece of it. (Remember Warners and Imeem?) It took more than 10 years of rights wrangling, much of it done personally by the irresistible Jobs himself, with the recalcitrant and stubborn levels of the music industry, from artists and their agents and managers, to the record industry with the various labels and corporate parents, and then songwriters and their various rights organizations, most of which resisted technological change in every knuckleheaded way possible.

Speaking of which, look at the New York Times today. Hollywood and the cable industry are teaming up to penalize illegal downloaders by taking away part or all of their Internet access after five or six warnings, the beginning of a new Whac-a-Mole game that, even if successful, will just see the downloaders move to new and more secure ways to move media around.

Right now, in fact, the movie and TV business looks a lot like the music one did in the early 2000s. And as we've seen, that decade didn't work out too well for the labels. So it's worth looking at the situation and wondering how things are going to fare in the TV and movie world in the decade ahead. It can all be summed up in one single sentence. I'll get to that in a minute.

The situation for watching a movie or a TV show these days is a mess. Here's a case study. If I want to watch some old episodes of The Office, for example, I have an extraordinary slew of options. But there are two problems with this. For one, I don't want a slew of options. I really just want one. And, as for the second, they're all hard to use or incomplete in one way or another.

DVDs, once so sleek and cool—you don't forget your first director commentary—are now unwieldy and a drag to use. You have to sit there waiting for the things to load, chugging like the digital equivalent of a Model T. Then you get all the FBI and Interpol warnings, several of them, in various languages. Go ahead, push the "top menu" button on your remote all you wish and curse the screen the way your father did his old console TV, but you're not going to be taken anywhere. The studios deliberately program the warnings so they can't be skipped. At some point, the disc allows you to start navigating menus to see the episode you want … and then you do it all over again, including all the legal warnings, when you go to the next disc.

Now, this is all for a product you as a consumer have taken the time and effort to pay and bring home to your house. In other words, you bought the thing legally, but the studios still petulantly want you to hear them whining about piracy, and have no evident interest in giving you control to use it as you wish.

So let's move to cable. When I used to subscribe to DirectTV, my DVR box had an enormous hard drive. As I watched my favorite shows—three or four on NBC, a lot more on HBO and Showtime, just for starters—I just archived the current season, along with scores of movies and the churn of daily and weekly news shows I keep up on. Then I moved, and am now back stuck with Cox, the Yugo of cable service.

My new DVR holds so few shows I thought the hard drive was damaged originally. They weren't. It was just the (sub)standard Cox offering. It holds now about 20 shows, and a few movies, and is basically useless in that it fills up every few days and starts deleting older programs. And, of course, there's no way to archive the shows I want to keep or add my own extra hard drive.

But what about "on-demand," you ask? Cox's is dismal. Press the on-demand button, wait a few minutes and you can page through something that looks like an in-room viewing interface in a Marriott from the 1990s. (There's no search.) Eventually you'll find the NBC archive, and then eventually a few episodes of The Office. Click a few times and wait patiently, and you'll find each episode comes with un-fastforwardable-through commercials, generally from movies of NBC sister-company Universal. Most of the time, there are only two, and they are each repeated about four times during the 22-minute episode. Most recently they were a mirthless preview of Little Fockers and an already-forgotten, simpering Zach Galifianakis movie called It's Kind of a Funny Story. Watch two episodes of the show and in the space of an hour you will have seen each of those commercial eight times. This is a less than optimal viewing experience.

Now NBC's not the only network, of course. HBO, too, has some on-demand shows available on Cox's system. But only some.

Since I'm an HBO subscriber, I have another venue for seeing old HBO shows that I want to watch or series I want to catch up on. The network provides it … on the Web. HBO now has a service called HBO Go. The site contains a fairly big chunk of the network's history. There's no Larry Sanders, but it's got most of the tony stuff—the complete Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and Sex and the City, for example. This is great, and the next time I'm in NYC maybe I'll be the cool guy at the Spring St. subway station watching old episodes of Carnivale on his Nexus One. But I really want these TV shows available where I actually, um, watch TV, which is on the couch in front of the TV set. That, I can't get, and it seems odd.

So then there's Netflix. (Note that I'm now on my fourth media financial outstream—first cable, then DVDs, then premium cable, and now an additional $23.99 a month for Netflix.) Netflix has a fairly impressive library of film and TV shows available on DVD. But of course you have to wait a couple of days to get something (I'm including the time it takes to mail your other disc back), and there are the gaps for films and shows that just aren't on disc. (Like the Australian Wilfred, for example.) Irritatingly, Netflix doesn't provide a way to request titles, either.

Now, Netflix also has a limited number of films and TV shows on its on-demand streaming service. Netflix streaming works fine. It's fast and responsive. The only problem there is that the Sony PS3 through which I access it has become a supreme annoyance. Even before its recent hacking problems, the PS3 had become incredibly pushy, suddenly demanding I sign onto something called the PlayStation Network before I could watch a Netflix video. (This could have something to do with my move to Cox, I'm not sure. But I also don't care. I just want to watch a movie on Netflix.) In recent months the thing also began greeting me with an annoying Netflix sign-on screen instead of just signing me in. The sign-on screen includes a little check box that lets me tell it to sign me onto Netflix automatically. It shows me this little check box, in fact, no matter how many times I've already checked it.

Once the PS3-hacking issue got underway, a new phenomenon resulted: After being forced to use that annoying Netflix sign-on screen, I would then be told I needed first to go sign on to the PS3 network … which was of course down. I would be routed to a screen that said I couldn't in fact sign on to the PlayStation Network, and was told to push a button to go back to the previous screen … which told me I couldn't sign on to Netflix until I signed onto the PlayStation Network. This merry-go-round continued for a few more iterations before the thing gave up and let me onto Netflix. Imagine the fun for parents who just want to show their kids Toy Story 3.

Anyway, once you manage to access Netflix, the first six seasons of The Office are available for immediate streaming—but not, for some reason, the current season.

At this point I don't really want to spend the time to explain how annoying the PlayStation store's video offerings are to use. (You can get some Office webisodes there.) Or to talk about another video HD service on the PS3, called Vudu, offering "Top Quality High-Speed Streaming Movies on Your PS3™ System!," which sounded exciting and was intriguing right up to the point where nothing happened when I clicked on its icon. Or to discuss how difficult it is to get Hulu Plus up and running. That service lets me see the current season of The Office and finally makes the show's complete archive available to those who are not exhausted. (Who said TV isn't mentally stimulating?) It's $7.99 a month, too, or the fifth payment plan so far, but who's counting?

(Apple TV, you ask? Netflix works better on that, of course, but it has other problems. There's no disc drive, so I can't replace a DVD player with it, much less a Blu-ray, or play data discs the way the PS3 lets me. And there's no convenient USB port for a thumbdrive, which the PS3 also has.)

This frustrating and pointless process can be repeated with any TV show you wish, or any group of director's films or any genre. Some parts of it are available here under these circumstances, some are available there under those. Some in this place, some in that, and some not at all. And the availability can change without notice.

The trouble facing the movie industry right now is the same one the music industry had to confront 10 years ago. This is the summing-up sentence I referred to above:

The easiest and most convenient way to see the movies or TV shows you want is to get them illegally.

Now, I recently obtained, through sources I will not divulge for obvious reasons, a single DVD disc with 22 episodes of The Office on it as data files—a complete season. (Since I already own all the DVDs and got the disc just to make a journalistic point, I hope the courts will be lenient.) I can play it on my PS3 and I can take the disc with me when travelling to watch on the computer.

This obviates the need for four or five DVD discs. The quality isn't high-end HD, but it's quite good. And of course I don't get the extras like the deleted scenes, though I'm sure I could if I wanted. The PS3 has a Bluetooth remote, much better than standard-issue cable-company ones, that responds to commands with lightning speed. And there are no FBI or Interpol warnings.

Again, to belabor the obvious: The illegal version isn't just free. It's better.

Here's one more example. Vuze is one of the most popular bit-torrent clients. I don't know when it happened, but some months ago I noticed some new icons under the video menu on the PS3. "Vuze on Macintosh" read one. "Vuze on PC" said another. I poked around, and finally figured out that the Vuze program on my computers had added a new feature, one that that lets you play on your TV the video sitting on the connected devices on your home network. The feature had installed itself automatically on the PS3. That's a little scary, I guess, but compare this to how, right after I downloaded Hulu Plus, I started it up … and was told I had to download an update. Now I just toss any video I have on my computers in the Vuze PS3 folder and I'm good to go.

It's not perfect, but it's incredibly useful. It's also thoughtful, in the sense that the program anticipated what people might need and made it happen. (It also plays all of the various video codexes, unlike Apple TV, which handles just the limited ones its QuickTime player is comfortable with.) There are no terms and conditions, no Interpol warnings, and no sign-on screens, and best of all there is no artificial divide between this season and that of some TV series. It's all there when I want it. Why should I go back to on-demand or Netflix?

In the music industry throughout the 2000s, the record labels were hampered by a number of things—their own lack of technical knowledge, the sprawling and discordant number of rights holders, corporate paralysis in the face of change, or just, in some of the more enlightened operations that tried to ride the wave, some bad guesses about where the technology was going to go.

(They were also stymied by a failure of imagination brought on by decades of corrupt machinations, short-term bottom-line thinking, and the arrogance of having milked a lot of money out of their ability to resell their product in different formats to each new generation of consumers.)

Anyway, because of all these things, the music industry, when it began to feel the effects of the technological change coming, doubled down on stupid. The labels didn't get together to co-opt this new rough beast. When Napster appeared, they sued it instead of working with it and creating a central repository for its product. When kids started file-swapping on other venues, the labels adopted the scorched-earth policy of suing its own customers, even though it wasn't offering most music legally. And then when Steve Jobs showed the labels a way to get their product to consumers easily and smartly, they insisted on digital-rights-management software, which again made the legal product less desirable than the illegal and led to years of stunted progress before they finally gave up.

It seems plain that the 2010s are going to be the decade of video. There are good reasons, looking at matters in the short term, for the movie and TV industries not to get their acts together. There are genuine economic forces at work that prevent it as well. (For one, the principals involved need to accept what the music industry never did—that the overall value of its product, which had been propped up by its monopoly control of it, has been considerably and permanently lessened. It's a lot to ask.)

But we can see what didn't work for the music industry. Will Hollywood figure it out? I doubt it. For one, the power of the parties involved, the complexity of their interrelationships, and even the internecine battles playing out inside some of them dwarf those of the music biz. Consider: Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Nintendo; the TV hardware makers (including Sony); the studios, each with corporate parents and international interests (Sony again); theater chains; TV studios (Sony again), TV networks; stars, writers, directors, and their unions; ancillary players like Netflix, Amazon, and the like; and others I'm forgetting. (And then add antitrust regulators here and, even more importantly, in the EU into the mix.) Try getting that crew of misfits and miscreants to agree on anything.

Another factor mitigating against them proactively fixing the problem: The stakes are in a sense lower, in that theater exhibition, a big chunk of the studios' income, won't be affected, for now. The exhibition field can be thought of as the movie industry's equivalent of the live-concert industry in music, but one where all the money doesn't go to the artists. But: The increasing quality of the home-viewing experience, particularly for adult-appeal films, is I think an underappreciated iceberg ahead. And the free money coming from innovations like 3-D and IMAX showings, however evanescent their appeal, are for now covering up a lot of softness in the industry.

Another bright spot, from the industry's point of view: The machinations needed to use illegal video are presently a lot more complicated than they are for illegal music, particularly for segments of the audience that are older than, say, 30 and don't play video games. But that's a phenomenon whose prevalence decreases with every passing year. Younger people grew up manipulating their game consoles and computers. They won't have the problems fortysomethings today have.

If the studios were smart they'd go to the mat and create a massive one-stop shop for TV and movies, find a price point they can live with and then set programmers loose to make the thing as easy to use and ubiquitous as possible. Instead they've been wasting their time strong-arming the cable companies to help them on a new crusade against illegal downloaders—an unwieldy process that doesn't address the root problem and won't work.

Where have we heard that before?

I'm not saying that using illegal media is right. And of course it's free—the studios can't do anything about that. But does it have to be easier?

No—and until something is done about the ease of use, the film and TV studios are going to live out a script very similar to the one the music industry just acted out. I know the name of that movie. It's called The Hangover 2.


Why the courts must decriminalize prostitution

by Kirk Makin

Want some action? In most of Canada, sexual services are just a click, a phone call or a short stroll away. Some are overtly marketed as nude massage parlours or body rubs. Other hide behind coy euphemisms: holistic centre; shiatsu; gentlemen's spa.

After choosing from a small selection of attendants at one such establishment, Toronto's Studio 409, one is led into a room with soft lighting, a shower, lots of towels and a selection of oils. The attendant lists a smorgasbord of services that include nude massage, fetishes and body sliding.

Body sliding?

“It can mean just about anything,” the attendant explains, laughing.

And the same is true of Canada's prostitution laws, a legal regime riddled with arbitrariness and hypocrisy. Enforcement is wildly uneven, when it takes place at all.

Yet the current laws are a masterpiece of coherence compared with the chaos that will break out if the Ontario Court of Appeal this month strikes down several central provisions of the sex-trade laws.

The court has set aside five days the week of June 13 to hear a joint provincial and federal appeal of last year's lower-court decision that invalidated prohibitions against maintaining a brothel, communicating for the purposes of prostitution or living on its avails.

That decision hasn't come into effect because of the pending appeal, but all year its broader implications have stirred up commotion and heated debate. The big question is: Has the moment come when Canada is ready to decriminalize prostitution?

A ruling that the law is unconstitutional would bind all Ontario judges and spark immediate legal challenges in other provinces that would cite the decision.

Many experts believe that if the Crown appeal fails, the Harper government will not venture into the morass of prostitution law, “for the same reasons as they avoid dealing with abortion,” says Mariana Valverde, a criminologist at the University of Toronto: “There is just too much to be lost and not much to be gained.”

Theoretically, prostitution – exchanging sex for money – has long been legal in Canada. But in practice, virtually any method of buying or selling sex is prohibited. It's Canada's half-baked compromise to avoid all-out confrontation between two camps that split long before the 2010 decision: One faction, led by religious groups and rural Canadians, objects to any loosening of the laws that govern sex work, fearing decriminalization could lead to underage prostitution and human trafficking. The other favours liberalization, provided there is no increase in crime and public nuisance. Whenever the two sides clash, committees are charged to review the laws. They report back months later with sensible proposals. These are ignored, and the daisy chain begins anew.

That is, until now. The horrific Robert Pickton murders in B.C. raised the country's awareness of prostitutes' vulnerability, and now the Ontario court's scrupu- lously written decision is at last providing an opportunity to sort the problem out.

If you listen to the people most affected – the prostitutes – it becomes clear that the rational thing is to destigmatize the oldest profession, to help it be practised more safely and sanely, as the normal part of Canadian life that, like it or not, it is.

With the midafternoon sun streaming through a living-room window of her condo, 17 floors above Toronto's east end, Victoria Love (her trade name) lives a comfortable, middle-class existence after 15 years in the business. But she has to be cautious. “I skirt around the law,” the slight 32-year-old says. “I go to places to meet my clients, and nobody knows what is going on. There is a lot of vulnerability, but I'm very careful to keep myself from running into legal problems.”

Such great care, and good fortune, have prevented Ms. Love from getting hurt or coming onto the police radar. To avoid bawdy-house charges, she does only outcalls. And she avoids any customer who raises her suspicions.

Others, she knows, are not nearly so lucky. “There is an incredible variety of experiences in the sex industry,” she says. “For some, the laws created conditions that led to horrific forms of violence. When the communicating law came into effect in the 1980s, we began to see missing women and severe forms of violence.”

Forced by the communication law to assess a potential customer hurriedly before getting into his car, street prostitutes are the ones most likely to end up beaten or dead. A 2006 study by Parliament's standing committee on justice and human rights found that at least 79 prostitutes were killed from 1994 to 2003. It concluded, as most researchers have, that street workers face the greatest peril.

Sex workers of all kinds seldom seek help from the authorities because their boyfriends can be charged with procuring or their children apprehended by child-welfare authorities. “Whether you're being arrested or not, your name is in the system now as a criminal,” added Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society. “You will forever be marked.”

Thus, current law not only fails in its goal of preventing street prostitution, it also has forced sex workers of all types to operate in perilous isolation, afraid to reach out for help.

If the court throws out that law and Ottawa doesn't act, by default the mess will end up in the hands of municipalities. “They should be preparing pro-actively for this, but they aren't,” Prof. Valverde says.

She predicts that municipal politicians will panic and pass hasty measures that drive sex work further into the shadows – literally, figuratively and dangerously.

Policing paradoxes and social stigma

Just before the communication law was introduced in the 1980s, a number of prostitutes The Globe and Mail interviewed on Toronto's Church Street described a beat cop they had dubbed the Sperm Whale, based on his willingness to turn a blind eye in return for sexual services.

Today, it is rare to see a prostitute on Church, but a wary relationship endures between sex workers and the police, who are expected to be both pursuers and protectors.

The illegality of the sex trade helps the police in giving them a window through which they can watch out for underage boys and girls as well as human trafficking. Advocates say that while some police are understanding and see the arbitrariness of the law, others are judgmental and harsh.

“The vast majority of enforcement efforts have always been to target street-based sex work because it is the most visible aspect of prostitution and that's where the complaints are,” Ms. Pacey says. “It has made them incredibly vulnerable.”

Still, it isn't law enforcement that tends to irk sex workers the most. It is the constant need to lie about their vocation. It is having to stomach the frequent public indifference when a hooker is murdered. It's the sense of being an untouchable caste.

As Ms. Love says, “I'm a prostitute, which is a very stigmatized and devalued identity.”

The feminist debate always comes down to this: Are these women victims of exploitation or empowered women with a right to decide how they use their bodies?

The Crown argues that what sex workers need most is not decriminalization, but programs to help with addictions or mental problems and to aid them in developing work skills.

But, to the attendant at Studio 409, it is all about controlling one's own destiny. A full-time office worker who was attracted to the idea of stepping outside her workaday life, she works two evenings a week servicing men: “I get to meet a lot of interesting people,” she says. “And it gives me money to go travelling.”

Emily van der Meulen, a public-health expert at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital and a strong advocate of reform, says she looks at prostitution as analogous to a young person settling for a burger-flipping job at McDonald's. “Maybe he would really like to be the CEO of Apple,” she says. “Unfortunately, Steve Jobs isn't going to give up his job. But it's not for me to say that the kid made a bad choice by working at McDonald's.”

Her point is that “choices are always constrained by social context. … Given those constraints, sex workers see this as the best possible avenue for them to make a living.”

Ms. Love, for her part, scoffs at the idea that she is a victim. “Those debates are so old to me,” she says. “People have sex in apartments. Well, sometimes, they have sex in an apartment and leave money on the table when they leave. What's the difference?”

A wave of international reform

Most countries that have decriminalized sex work did so after deciding that, since it will never disappear, it only makes sense to take a pragmatic leap to tolerant regulation. In the past decade, Australia, New Zealand and Germany have all embraced decriminalization, acknowledging that their own versions of the it's-legal-but-you-can't-do-it game were not working.

Meanwhile, Sweden went in a unique direction, based on a conviction that sex workers are victims of exploitation. Today, Swedish prostitutes are never charged or prosecuted – their customers, however, can be.

In Canada, politicians have repeatedly ignored cries for reform, leaving it to York University law professor Alan Young finally to persuade the judiciary to step in. During the week-long hearing last year before Madam Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court, Prof. Young and the Crown brought out a parade of sex workers, criminologists and international experts arguing for or against decriminalization.

Judge Himel concluded that the communication law compels sex workers to operate in dark corners at great risk to their safety; that outlawing brothels forces prostitutes to work in solitude; and that the pimping law precludes them from hiring drivers or bodyguards to enhance their safety, as well as making it legally dicey to live with boyfriends or family members.

The reaction from sex workers was all over the map. Some cherish their anonymity and independence from state scrutiny, red tape and taxation. Legal reform would cost them at least some of that.

But there would be many payoffs. For example, labour protections would allow sex workers to participate in employment insurance and have recourse against brothel owners who force them to work unpaid overtime or unsafely. As in Germany, they might even form unions.

“Right now, some escort services … expect you to be on call 24/7, and you are fined if you miss a call,” says Susan Davis, a Vancouver prostitute-activist. “We have booking girls who work totally on commission, so they will send you anywhere. We really need to be covered by labour law.”

As for the canard that decriminalization will lead to neighbourhoods being overrun with leering prostitutes and unruly johns? As Judge Himel took pains to point out, police have ample charges at their disposal to deter public nuisances.

What's more, many politicians seem unaware that the Internet has profoundly changed the nature of sex work, reducing the need for prostitutes to troll for business in public. Studies have shown that the bulk of them now work in massage parlours or with escort agencies or communicate by phone or online with clients.

Only the most desperate remain on the streets. But there will always be some. “For as long as there is extreme marginalization, poverty, drug addiction and untreated mental health, there is going to be street-level sex work,” Ms. Pacey says.

Conversation needs sex workers' voices

Regulations drafted without the input of sex workers are prone to fail, Ms. van der Meulen says. They are the real experts on the realities of their trade, and any approach that didn't have them on board would create a new black market. Vancouver has already led the way, installing sex workers on boards and committees that influence municipal policy.

Ms. Davis attributes the city's changed attitude to the lingering trauma of the murders by Mr. Pickton. “No one here was unaffected,” she says, “so there is a desire to try something new.”

Under decriminalization, municipalities would find other tools – zoning provisions, licensing fees, surveillance and health rules – to regulate sex work. In large centres, brothels would probably be licensed.

But Gillian Abel, a public-health expert at New Zealand's University of Otago, warns that sex workers will shy away from any system that forces them to reveal their names and personal information. Brothel owners must be the ones who are subjected to background checks and divulge financial information, she says.

For those who don't think Canada is ready for a decriminalized sex trade, consider this: For 25 years, the country has existed without a genuine abortion law. Midwifery has gone from being an illegal activity to one that is regulated and widely accepted. Medical marijuana has become legal and Vancouver has even created a safe injection site for heroin addicts.

However controversial, they all reflect a move toward pragmatic accommodation rather than top-down control.

The sex trade, meanwhile, is everywhere, with its existence causing minimal public disturbance. If the political will to recognize and cope with that fact is too weak, then it will have to be done in the courts.

Gazing out at Toronto's skyline, Ms. Love muses about how the Ontario Court of Appeal may change her world. “There are fear-mongers who try to get people's knickers in a knot,” she says. “They say: ‘Oh, there's a prostitute next door!'

“Well, there are prostitutes next to everyone. We are just going about our business.”

10 Ways You Waste Money on Your Car

By Jerry Edgerton

With gas bills putting a crimp in your budget, you don’t want to be wasting money on other car expenses. But many car owners do just that — either spending more than needed on maintenance or putting off work that will cost more later.

To be smart about your car, you need to do the right amount of on-time maintenance — while resisting mechanics’ pitches for unnecessary work. “With advertising that emphasizes maintenance-free cars, people may have the idea they don’t have to take care of them,” says George Sadowski, education manager at the Norwood, Mass., campus of Universal Technical Institute, a leading provider of training courses for auto mechanics.

But while neglect doesn’t work, neither does overspending. From Sadowski and Michael Calkins, manager of the AAA program that recommends repair shops, here are 10 ways you may be wasting money on your car.

1. Changing oil every 3,000 miles. A relic of a bygone era, this guideline is often promoted by dealers or repair shops eager for business. Instead, read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for oil-change intervals — it’s often 5,000 to 7,500 miles.

2. Using premium fuel unnecessarily. Don’t pay this higher cost unless your owner’s manual says premium fuel is “required.” High-performance engines like those in Corvettes and some luxury models do really require it. But if premium fuel is just “recommended,” you can still buy regular. Michael Calkins of AAA takes this suggestion to heart. “I have a Nissan Murano that recommends premium,” he says. “But it runs fine on regular.” At recent national averages of $3.78 a gallon for regular and $4.04 for premium, that’s a savings of about $4 every time you fill up a 15-gallon tank.

3. Failing to change your air filter. “If you have not changed your air filter by about 40,000 miles, it is probably clogged and hurting your gas mileage,” says George Sadowski. That MPG penalty could be as much as 10% to 15%, he estimates. So if your mechanic recommends a fresh filter after about 25,000 miles, say yes.

4. Failing to check the brake pads. Most mechanics will raise this issue periodically, but you should suggest it if not. Getting timely pad replacement can help you avoid later (and much more expensive) repair to the brake drums or rotors, Sadowski advises. Replacing the pads should cost less than $150.

5. Buying mileage-boosting additives and devices. On auto racing shows and other sports programs, ads are nearly constant for oil additives or devices — like magnets on the fuel lines — that will supposedly improve your car’s mileage. “I’ve never seen any good scientific study proving that any of this works,” says the AAA’s Calkins. “They come out of the woodwork whenever gas prices go up.”

6. Tune-ups for your engine or air conditioning. Another relic of a bygone era, this is still a popular promotion to drum up business. “Modern engines are constantly being tuned by on-board computers,” says Calkins. “And as for air conditioning, if it is blowing cold air, it is fine. If it isn’t, get it fixed.”

7. Changing coolant. Mechanics or dealers will often say you need to have the engine coolant flushed out and replaced. That’s only true if you have plenty of miles on it. Modern coolant — you’ll know it because it’s usually brown or light red – is engineered to last five years or 50,000 miles, says Calkins. That’s about double the lifespan of the old-style green coolant.

8. Ignoring your check-engine light. This amber light on your dash, which in some cars says “service engine soon,” indicates a problem with the fuel or emission system. A malfunctioning oxygen sensor, often the reason for the light, can hurt your gas mileage. (See 5 Questions to Ask Your Mechanic.) And an out-of-kilter fuel mix, if ignored too long, could harm the engine.”You could wind up with a $1,000 repair job instead of what could have been a $150 job,” cautions Calkins.

9. Buying expensive performance tires. When it is time to replace your tires, the dealer rep or salesman at the tire shop may try to convince you that you need the super-grip performance tires that come with sports cars and other high-performance vehicles. But they can sometimes cost twice as much, Calkins notes, and because they are made of softer rubber, they often do not last as long. And let’s get real: Are you driving an Indy track or circling the mall looking for parking?

10. Paying for built-in navigation. If you are buying a new car, taking the factory navigation system can cost $2,000 or more. Calkins points out that most smart phones now have navigation options that work just as well and carry free updates of their maps, unlike the built-in systems.

You can’t control the price of gas. But by paying attention to your maintenance schedule and doing just enough — but not more than you really need — you can keep from wasting money on your other automotive costs.

A long-buried release, possible Beach Boys reunion give reasons to Smile

By Ryan Snyder

There`s a 1971 Beach Boys recording from a Fillmore East show with the Grateful Dead where Carl Wilson, having just concluded “Good Vibrations” to uproarious applause, sends his gratitude to the song’s authors. “It sure was nice of Mike and Brian to write that song,” he said. The Mike in question was lead vocalist Mike Love and the Brian, of course, was the band’s mercurial mastermind Brian Wilson. The band was but 10 years old at that point, but had already endured myriad internal problems, and the show with Jerry Garcia and company was to serve as rehabilitation for the sagging hipness. Another 40 years later and the Beach Boys may be primed for another shot of cool.

It’s true that the peachy keen, aw-shucks demeanor that Carl Wilson espoused in innocent stage banter typified the Beach Boys then as much as their infallible harmonies and revolutionary lyricism did. At the same time, the growing ideological rift between the militantly teetotaling Love and the psychedelically curious Brian Wilson came to be the band’s albatross. Through numerous legal, professional and interpersonal complications, The Beach Boys are on the verge of two historic milestones: a potential 50th anniversary reunion and the definitive release of the Smile recordings, the creative work said to be the tipping point for the band’s creative differences.

While the album that’s come to be known as The Smile Sessions is finally seeing the light of day after several excruciating misfires over the decades, plans for a 50 th anniversary reunion of the surviving band members are a little less evident. Brian Wilson, the only living Wilson brother, has offered contradictory quotes as to his potential involvement in a reunion over the past two weeks. The first, more encouraging statement came in a piece published on May 16 by BBC 6 Music where he said simply, “I’m considering it. I don’t know yet, but I am considering it.” He followed that in a teaser published 10 days later by the Village Voice, referencing the same report published by BBC 6 and rollingstone.com, “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t really [have a relationship with the other members] right now, and I’m not really interested in them.”

In a recent interview with YES! Weekly as the Beach Boys prepare to make the inaugural performance at Greensboro’s new White Oak Ampitheatre, Love expressed confusion over the conflicting reports before striking a similarly guarded, but more conciliatory tone.

“I heard of an interview where he said I’m retiring the Brian Wilson thing and next year I’m going to be a Beach Boy. Who knows?” Love said. “I can’t speak to what he said because I wasn’t there, but I think we’re all open to doing stuff together again.”

In regards to the anniversary, there are a couple of formative events worthy of observation according to Love. One being the release of their first single “Surfin’” in the late fall of 1961, and the other being their first time promoted as the Beach Boys, which occurred on Dec. 31 of the same year. As for his ideal observation for the Beach Boys’ golden anniversary would be, Love could only express his support for a performance involving the surviving members.

“It makes a lot of sense.

There’s a lot of interest in that,” Love said. “I can only say that I’d be open to it and it could be fun, fun, fun.”

Those surviving members, of course, are Love, Wilson, rhythm guitarist Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965 as an onstage replacement for Wilson. Johnston currently tours with Love as a member of the Beach Boys, while Jardine has found success fronting his own solo band. Jardine made a brief return to the Beach Boys earlier this year, signifying that animosities resulting from suits brought against him by Love and the estate of Carl Wilson over the touring usage of the Beach Boys’ name may have quelled.

As for Love, he’s charioted the Beach Boys since the 1998 death of Carl Wilson despite sharing corporate ownership with Brian Wilson, who otherwise became preoccupied with work outside the band. While Love made scattered attempts at a solo career that ultimately proved less fruitful, he believes a reunion would still be a part of the conversation had he opted in favor of his own work.

“Its possible, I don’t think anyone would have thought that the Buffalo Springfield would be out touring today, that’s for sure, especially after taking about 35 years off,” Love said. “Anything’s possible in music, as long as you have your health and your chops, and you haven’t overdone it with drugs or alcohol.”

Long the spearhead of the clean-and-sober faction within the band, Love has almost gone out of his way in the past to project an image of temperance and mildness. He brought his friend John Stamos on as a drummer during the actor’s peak years as Uncle Jessie on “Full House” in the 1980s, and still references him as “America’s Favorite Uncle” in conversation. While he says he was disapproving of the drug use that began to consume Wilson during the Pet Sounds era and increased during the recording of Smile, Love acknowledges that Wilson was always the most important member of the band. At the same time, however, he expressed his hesitance in joining him artistically as his unbridled creativity was capable of taking the band off into places for which he wasn’t prepared.

“The only exception I took was that I wasn’t involved in the lyrical part of it, and the lyrics are a little far-fetched and obtuse for me because I have a different style of writing and a different thought process,” Love stressed. “But that’s been misconstrued by some as to say that I didn’t like the Smile album — and that’s absolutely not true. I never said that, but I did take exception to some of the lyrics. What I took exception to was the insanity of that time, all the drugs and everything like that. As far as the music is concerned, that part of it is incredible.”

This obviously isn’t the first time Love has said he was only opposed to the lyrics — which Smile co-writer Van Dyke Parks has called “revisionism” — Love remains adamant about his stance. Some evidence suggests that it may simply be time that has softened Love’s stance on the band’s more psychedelic music. He spoke glowingly of the Carl Wilson song “Feel Flows”, a song from the album Surf’s Up which itself was salvaged from the Smile recordings.

“My son went away to school a while back and he said one of his friends heard ‘Feel Flows’ with a solo by Charles Lloyd,” Love said. “This friend of his comes back and says that ‘Feel Flows’ is the best song he’s ever heard. It’s not really well known, but it’s a phenomenal recording.”

He says he hasn’t heard what the project as it will be released on Aug. 9 sounds like, but he also doesn’t see it as a weight is about to be lifted from the band’s collective shoulders. He says that “Wonderful” shows Brian Wilson singing at his best, with the rest of the band offering some of the most complex harmonies of that period, and described “Heroes and Villains” as simply “dynamic.”

“I think people will listen to it, and some will get their mind’s blown and others will think it’s too far out there for them,” Love said. “But I think everyone will find something they’re going to like on it.”